Hippocampal role in working memory?

Bill Skaggs bill at darwin.bns.pitt.edu
Mon Jan 26 09:56:25 EST 1998

Jeremy Leipzig wrote:
>     A few weeks ago there was a spot on 20/20 which discussed the
> effects of aging on working memory.  The experts they interviewed were
> claiming that a progressive degeneration of the hippocampus was
> responsible for declines in working memory.
>     I've always understood that the hippocampus was only involved in
> consolidation - or transfer into long term memory.  My undergrad
> neuroscience textbook also states that the ubiquitous ex-hippocampal
> patient H.M.'s short-term memory was "intact."  H.M. suffered from
> anterograde amnesia, specifically in declarative memory.
>     What are your thoughts on this matter?

Working memory is not the same thing as short term memory.
Short term memory, of the kind that is intact in H.M.,
requires keeping the subject constantly in mind, at the
center of attention.  H.M. can remember something 
indefinitely, so long as he never ceases to think about
it.  Working memory, in contrast, is simply memory that
is only useful for a limited period of time, and does
not necessarily require constant attention.  A typical
example is remembering where I left my car when I go
shopping at the mall.  H.M. would not be able to do this.
(He wouldn't even remember coming to the mall in the first

	-- Bill

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